Page last updated at 17:16 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 18:16 UK

5m plan for failed bridge bids

Forth Road Bridge
Ministers said the existing road bridge needs to be replaced

Companies who put forward unsuccessful bids to build the new Forth crossing could be paid back millions of pounds, it has emerged.

The agency Transport Scotland said tendering for the £2bn road bridge contract could cost firms £10m.

Officials said failed bidders could be reimbursed by up to £5m, or as much as £10m if the bridge did not go ahead.

Project bosses said the deal was needed amid concerns over attracting enough interest to build the crossing.

Members of Holyrood's finance committee have raised concern about the request, which would need approval from parliament.

If the Scottish Government decided not to proceed with the new road bridge, or if the legislation allowing its construction was voted down by MSPs, ministers want to be able to pay tendering expenses back to bidding firms, capped at £10m, with the expectation that only three bidders would make a pitch.

The information we have leads us to believe that we are not secure in getting a competition, or even necessarily a single bidder, without making this commitment
John Howison
Transport Scotland

Additionally, Ainslie McLaughlin, Transport Scotland's major projects director, told the committee: "We are looking potentially to reimburse if the project does go ahead for the costs incurred in tendering for the project," adding that unsuccessful firms could each get a maximum of £5m back.

Officials said the move was needed to ensure the best possible competition for the bridge contract - one of Scotland's largest ever infrastructure projects.

John Howison, project director for the Forth replacement crossing at Transport Scotland, also told the committee: "The information we have leads us to believe that we are not secure in getting a competition, or even necessarily a single bidder, without making this commitment to meet these costs on this contingency basis."

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie pointed out such a move had never been made in the lifetime of the parliament, while party colleague David Whitton, added: "Here we have what will probably be the next biggest construction contract for the next decade, you've got companies queueing up to express an interest in it, they all want a slice of the action.

"But they also want belt and braces. They want the Scottish Parliament to underwrite their bidding costs just in case the bridge doesn't go ahead."

Meanwhile, Edinburgh City Council said the final decision on a commitment to build the new crossing should be put off until 2011-12, when more information on the condition of the existing Forth Road Bridge - which has been deteriorating - will be available.

Fife Chamber of Commerce branded the call "completely ridiculous and very short-sighted".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This Scottish Government will deliver a new Forth Crossing on time and on budget using our own resources by 2016 at a cost of between £1.7-£2.3bn.

"This is a world class, prestigious project and these standard industry provisions will ensure we maximise competition and achieve the best overall price."

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